Surreal Talk – You’re gonna love the D.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is the latest game from Deadly Premonition creator Swery65. Equal parts enthralling and hilarious, the surreal Kinect-powered point-and-click adventure puts players in control of David Young, a bubblegum-chewing, tequila-shooting former Boston Police Department lawman-turned-private investigator with a gunshot scar on his forehead and a score to settle with his wife’s mysterious murderer, known only as “D”. Luckily for David, rather than putting him six feet under, that bullet to the head has mysteriously given him the power to travel through time; a power he’ll need if he plans to dive into the past and save his lover’s life. What follows is an often grotesque and always entertaining adventure that, while much smaller in scale than Deadly Premonition‘s sprawling Pacific Northwest setting of Greenvale, is equally engrossing with its varied cast of eccentric characters, exciting motion-controlled action, and bizarre but ultimately compelling story.
The game begins in a dingy bathroom as the game’s protagonist awakens from a surreal dream inside a mildew-crusted bathtub, haunted by visions of his murdered wife. The opening moments are both heady and melancholy, but this somber mood is quickly cast aside when you answer the door to your apartment only to assaulted by a cat girl with a live mouse dangling from her mouth. This quickly sets off a frantic, motion-controlled melee that has you batting away cutlery and fending off flying fists and feet as your assailant- who just so happens to be your freeloading roommate, Amanda- trashes your apartment. This is when the first time the game’s Kinect functionality really comes into its own. Using both hands you gesture to match the timed icons on screen, much like a rhythm game, to perform attacks and avoid taking damage from an entire kitchen’s worth of lethal cookware. Microsoft’s new sensor works wonders in this intense scrap, accurately detecting swipe and thrust gestures as you wave and flail your fists for survival, at one point literally reaching out, grabbing the crazed cat girl by the scruff, and pulling her to the ground in one immensely satisfying motion.
Moments like this are when D4’s wonderfully schizophrenic star shines brightest. Unfortunately, things don’t always work without a hitch, as there are a couple of more complex maneuvers that the Kinect tends to struggle with, such as some multi-step motions that usually cap off these frantic moments breaking the otherwise exceptional sense of immersion these sequences offer. If motion controls aren’t your thing, you can always switch to the standard Xbox One controller, which admittedly feels a bit more natural when exploring the game world, but proves extremely difficult when dealing with the game’s QTEs, which are obviously meant to be played with the Kinect.
When not engaging in bare knuckle brawls with your feline-centric housemates, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die functions mostly as a point and click adventure, reminiscent of master storyteller Telltale Games’ recent offerings such as The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. Traveling along a linear path from point-to-point. Raising your hand acts as a cursor when controlling with the Kinect, and you can either make a fist to interact with an object, or push with your hand to bop items around, often uncovering hidden point-awarding medals and other items. There are puzzles to overcome, but for the most part you’ll be spending your time in the prologue and first two chapters of D4 getting to know the game’s oddball cast of characters, which includes an extremely flamboyant fashion designer and his mannequin lover (who just so happens to look just like him) Sukey, a scarred and mysterious U.S. Marshall escorting a psychotic drug runner, and a paranoid young woman with one hell of a temper. Also, Twin Peaks fans are bound to appreciate the game’s resident sage-like giant, who speaks in incredibly slow, drawn-out sentences that you’ll either find hilarious or maddening depending on your tolerance for the absurd.
One interesting layer of depth comes from David’s stamina meter, which decreases whenever you perform an action such as speaking to a potential suspect, pushing aside an obstruction, or examining an item in the environment. Once your stamina bar is depleted you essentially lose a life, which can cost you precious points, which can be used to purchase items such as food and drinks which boost your stamina, healing items, and items to regain your focus, which highlights clues in the environment to aid you in your investigation. While the inclusion of a stamina meter may seem like a turn-off, it works to keep you focused and think about what clues are relevant to the investigation at hand so you don’t simply investigate every small detail until you eventually progress in the game’s main story.
In addition to the main investigation, players can also unlock a variety of side missions by talking to suspects. These range from finding “murderous” bunches in the carpet for a paranoid passenger to snatching raining clovers from the sky in a psychedelic mini-game that feels like equal parts Fruit Ninja and a bad trip at a Grateful Dead concert. All in all they’re nothing incredibly engaging, but they do award you with a plethora of points and bonus items if you complete them such a new outfits and other goodies.
In terms of visuals, D4 looks fantastic. The game’s vibrant cel-shaded world and character models resemble a graphic novel come to life, and the game’s animations are generally nice and fluid. While they certainly don’t raise the bar for the Xbox One, everything looks appealing and sports a respectable level of detail, even down to the minutiae you find scattered around David’s apartment and the passenger jet that serves as the primary setting of the game’s debut episodes.
Quite frankly, I haven’t enjoyed any other Xbox One title as much as I did D4. While you may be able to blow through the game’s prologue and first two chapters in just a couple of hours, the game’s world and characters are immensely appealing, and by the time the credits rolled I was dying to know just who was responsible for Little Peggy’s death. Like any good episodic adventure, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die ends on a huge cliffhanger that immediately had me craving the next installment. The game’s quirky characters and clever writing will surely get their hooks in any fans of the genre so long as Swery’s signature wackiness doesn’t drive them away. If you enjoyed the Lynchian absurdity of Deadly Premonition or are looking for a new episodic series to fill the void until the next seasons of The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, or the upcoming Tales From The Borderlands, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is absolutely worth checking out.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Xbox One (reviewed) ; Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios; Developer: Access Games; Players: 1; Released: September 19th, 2014; Genre: Adventure; MSRP: $14.99
This review is based on a copy of D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die purchased by Hey Poor Player.